This past week I’ve seen at least two stories in the newspaper that report the results of school surveys. The first, the “Quality Education Study”, conducted by Wipro and Education Initiatives, surveyed 23,000 students, 790 teachers and 54 principals from 89 schools, and looked at learning outcomes and learning environments in some of the country’s leading institutions. Six years ago, the same team conducted a similar survey and the results had shocked most of us – learning outcomes were far below expectations; a significant percentage of children were not able to perform mathematical operations, understand instructions, or demonstrate general knowledge to age and grade appropriate levels. The results of this survey are no less shocking, with the additional insight that a majority of children in these schools have little appreciation of social or ecological issues.
The second survey, a much smaller one conducted by CRY (Child Relief and You), looked at enrolment in government schools in a subdivision of Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh, one year after the RTE Act, and found that there had been little or no impact. Children were still out of school, and government schools still lacked the most basic facilities in these areas.
Quality by any measure remains a major challenge in Indian education, if the results from these surveys – however limited in scope – are to be taken seriously. These, along with the ASER exercise by Pratham, done in village schools, continue to paint a dismal picture. This is not to deny the efforts by various groups and individuals, on multiple fronts, to make education both accessible and meaningful to children of all backgrounds and abilities. What it does emphasize is that in the largest sectors – elite private schools and the average government schools – quality is still prominent in its absence.
Where do we begin to address this? Is it by looking desperately for technologies that can change ways and means of learning? Is it by upgrading physical spaces? Or by developing new materials that stimulate, interest, and clarify? Maybe it’s none of these, but instead we begin by looking at ourselves and the tools we have at our disposal. Our own sense of inventiveness, our ability to breathe excitement into dull and lifeless lesson plans. Our understanding of the young minds that we have come to know over our months and years on the job. Maybe it begins with us.